Role of galectin-3 in inflammation.
Galectin-3, a unique member of the growing family of β-galactoside binding lectins, contains a single carbohydrate recognition domain and a glycine rich N-terminal domain through which it can form oligomers and functions to cross-link both carbohydrate and non-carbohydrate ligands. Galectin-3 is widely expressed in adult tissues, particularly on and secreted by activated macrophages and monocytes. Galectin-3 has been implicated in many facets of the inflammatory response including neutrophil and macrophage activation and function. In this thesis I have examined the role of galectin-3 during fibrosis, alternative activation of macrophages and pneumonia. Galectin-3 expression is upregulated in established human fibrotic liver disease and in a mouse model of liver fibrosis induced by carbon tetrachloride. Galectin-3 expression is temporally and spatially related to the induction and resolution of experimental hepatic fibrosis in this model. In addition, disruption of the galectin-3 gene markedly attenuates liver and kidney fibrosis, induced by unilateral ureteric obstruction, with reduced collagen deposition and myofibroblast activation. Results suggest that galectin-3 may promote fibrosis by stimulating myofibroblast activation by a transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β)-independent mechanism. Recent reports suggest that alternative macrophage activation is one of the key steps toward the progression of fibrosis. Disruption of the galectin-3 gene specifically restrains interleukin-4 (IL-4)/IL-13-induced alternative macrophage activation in vitro. My results suggest that the key mechanism required for activation of an alternative macrophage phenotype is an IL-4-stimulated galectin-3 feed back loop which directly activates CD98 causing sustained phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3-K) activation. The gram-positive Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pn) is the leading cause of community acquired pneumonia worldwide, resulting in high mortality. Galectin-3-/- mice demonstrate a clearance defect of S. pn with increased septicaemia and a greater extent of lung damage compared to wild type mice. This phenotype is markedly reduced in pneumonia induced by the gram-negative Escherichia coli (E.coli). I have shown that presence of galectin-3 reduces the severity of pneumonia induced by S. pn and this is achieved through a number of processes: 1) Galectin-3 has bactericidal properties towards S. pn in vitro. 2) Galectin-3-/- macrophages show reduced production of nitrite following incubation with both S. pn and E. coli and hence a reduction in bacterial killing. 3) Galectin-3 activates neutrophils to produce reactive oxygen species which enhances the bactericidal activity of neutrophils. 4) Activation of neutrophils by galectin-3 augments phagocytosis of bacteria. 5) Finally, initial data suggests that galectin-3-/- neutrophils apoptose more readily than wild type neutrophils in vitro and galectin-3-/- macrophages phagocytose apoptotic neutrophils less efficiently compared to wild type. In vivo this would result in an accumulation of dying cells in the lung. The damage these apoptotic cells would have on the lung tissue may enable the bacteria to enter the blood stream resulting in sepsis. In summary, in response to chronic tissue injury, persistant upregulation of galectin-3 causes myofibroblast and alternative macrophage activation, thus enhancing collagen deposition and scarring. However during an acute S. pn infection, galectin-3 plays a benefitial role to aid the clearance of bacteria through a variety of processes. Therefore, galectin-3 plays a critical role in a variety of inflammatory disorders.